Petrel 10-Day Western Itinerary
Upon arrival at the airport in Quito, you are met by our local guide and transferred to the city's historic center, about an hour away. Our boutique hotel is located in the heart of the colonial quarter. Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.
Day 2: Exploring Historic Quito
After breakfast, embark on a full day of discovery in Ecuador’s capital. Heralded as Latin America's best-preserved colonial city, Quito's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with cobblestone lanes, elegant plazas and monuments, and ornate gilded churches. On a guided city tour, take in a panorama of the city and surrounding volcanic peaks from Panecillo Hill, visit the 16th-century Church and Convent of San Francisco, and wander through San Francisco Square. Marvel at the baroque splendor of La Compañia Church with its gleaming gold-leaf interior, and survey Independence Plaza, the original center of Quito from which we view the Archbishop's Palace, Cathedral and Presidential Palace.
We also visit an artisanal chocolate shop featuring products handmade from Ecuador's finest cacao. Ethically cultivated by a women's cooperative using traditional organic techniques, this rare cacao is prized by the great chocolatiers of the world for its heady aroma and unique flavor. We'll do a chocolate tasting, pairing different varieties with craft beer also made of cacao. Following lunch, the afternoon is at leisure to explore the city further on your own or visit the traditional workshops along La Ronda, one of Quito's oldest streets, where artisans craft everything from hats to wooden toys. This evening, we gather for a welcome dinner with one of our Expedition Leaders.
Day 3: Quito / Baltra, Galapagos Islands—Board M/C Petrel / North Seymour
Depart early this morning for the Quito airport and our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Landing on Baltra, we meet our second Expedition Leader, who accompanies us to the pier where the Petrel awaits. Settle in, then join our guides for a safety briefing and orientation to the adventures that lie ahead. After lunch aboard, we make our first landing at North Seymour, a small geological uplift where we follow a trail among swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies and endemic land iguanas. North Seymour is also home to the Galapagos’ largest colony of magnificent frigatebirds. As we stroll along the beach, we find marine iguanas and sea lions bodysurfing the northerly swells.
Day 4: Isabela—Punta Vicente Roca / Fernandina—Punta Espinoza
Isabela is our destination today, the largest of the Galapagos Islands. Shaped like a seahorse, it was created when six volcanoes flowed together. Beginning at Punta Vicente Roca, take a panga ride along a shoreline brimming with wildlife, and time permitting, we’ll snorkel at a spot where we frequently see sea turtles. Chances are good to spot Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, brown noddies and Galapagos fur seals. After lunch, Petrel crosses the Bolivar Channel en route to Fernandina, the youngest of the Galapagos islands. From the deck, keep an eye out for whales and dolphins, often on view in the passage.
Fernandina has one of the most dynamic and pristine ecosystems on Earth, displaying vivid evidence of recent volcanic activity. Eruptions in 2018 sent lava flowing all the way to the sea, providing a stark backdrop for wildlife viewing. We land at Punta Espinoza, where a surprising variety of life flourishes on the rope-like pahoehoe lava: flightless cormorants nest on the rocks and huge colonies of marine iguanas bask in the sun, while Galapagos hawks soar overhead. Bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs pepper the black rocks at water's edge, contrasting with the turquoise sea. When conditions permit, a snorkeling excursion offers a chance to see sea turtles and submerged marine iguanas feeding on algae.
Day 5: Isabela—Tagus Cove / Urbina Bay
Back on Isabela, spend the morning in Tagus Cove where we find graffiti dating to the 1800s, when pirates and whalers carved their ship names into the rock above a historic anchorage. Look for flightless cormorants on the shoreline and Galapagos penguins below the surface as we snorkel. Then, choose between two activities: a hike among the volcanic tuff cones for a closer look at the island's geological history, with views of Darwin's Lagoon, or a panga ride to look for blue-footed boobies perched on the cliff ledges, as well as brown pelicans, brown noddies and flightless cormorants. At Urbina Bay this afternoon, witness one of the best examples of geological uplift in the archipelago, a phenomenon that occurs when molten rock beneath the surface suddenly shifts. In 1954, the shoreline was heaved upward nearly 15 feet, exposing coral and stranding marine organisms above the water on what is now the shore. Urbina is home to nesting sea turtles and a colony of some of the islands' largest land iguanas. We also look for Galapagos tortoises and a variety of Darwin's finches.
Day 6: Isabela—Elizabeth Bay / Punta Moreno
On the southern side of Isabela, Petrel enters Elizabeth Bay to explore a sprinkling of islets, a lagoon frequented by sea turtles, and surrounding red and black mangroves. On a panga ride, search for resting and feeding sea turtles along with lava herons, Galapagos penguins, rays and flightless cormorants. Sailing west to Punta Moreno, we observe several endemic species on the seemingly barren lava flows. The point is located between two volcanoes, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul, and we step ashore to walk atop the hardened lava. At first glance, the corrugated rock landscape appears lifeless. However, the hard black surface is dotted with numerous shallow lagoons that harbor a wide variety of birdlife. Commonly seen species include flamingos, paint-billed crakes and white-cheeked pintails. We also see endemic Galapagos flora taking root on this young, barren lava flow, including giant candelabra cactus, Palo Santo trees, carob trees and lichens. The protected waters of Moreno Bay are surrounded by mangroves—ideal habitat for sea turtles, which we may spy as we snorkel.
Day 7: Isabela—Puerto Villamil / Sierra Negra Volcano
Isabela, the archipelago’s largest island, is also one of the youngest, and a marvelous world within itself. The laid-back island town of Puerto Villamil is our base for a choice of engaging activity options today. Wander trails through the wetlands located just outside town, comprised of lagoons, swamps, and mangroves that are home to a variety of bird species such as common stilts, whimbrels, white-cheeked pintail ducks, gallinules and other shorebirds. For a more adventurous option, take a guided hike up Sierra Negra, a large shield volcano that is one of the most active in the Galapagos. From the rim, peer into the black expanse of the vast caldera, the second-largest in the world at 6 miles across, which lies a thousand feet below. Along the trail, keep an eye out for Darwin's finches, flycatchers and mockingbirds, and if we're lucky, we might spy a Galapagos hawk.
Day 8: Santa Cruz—Tortoise Breeding Center / Nat Hab's Private Tortoise Camp
Arrive on Santa Cruz where our day begins in Puerto Ayora, the island's main town. Here, we visit the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, the world-famous tortoise-rearing site, managed in a partnership between Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Learn about efforts by international scientists, guides, rangers and park managers to research and conserve the unique habitats and species of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Galapagos. At the tortoise-rearing facility, view the protection pens where tiny hatchlings are bred to increase the depleted tortoise population, a central focus of the station's conservation mission. To date, more than 5,000 tortoises bred at the center have been released into the wild.
After time to explore town, followed by lunch back on board, we disembark to ascend by van into the misty highlands of Santa Cruz, arriving at Nat Hab's private Tortoise Camp. This exclusive setting offers a rare opportunity to spend a night in wild tortoise habitat, and these ancient, gentle reptiles that are the archipelago's namesake often wander right through camp. Accommodations are in safari-style raised platform tents and treehouses with views of the ocean. While rustic, they offer comfortable amenities, including real beds and private en suite facilities—with matchless proximity to wild tortoises in their natural habitat. Attracted to the area's lush vegetation, tortoises are most commonly seen in camp from July through February. From March to June, we make an excursion to a nearby tortoise reserve for closer views, as they migrate seasonally to a lower elevation.
Please note: At times, Tortoise Camp may be closed due to poor weather conditions.
Day 9: Santa Cruz Highlands / Santa Fe
Spend the morning exploring a network of subterranean lava tubes and caverns adjacent to Tortoise Camp—one lava tunnel is large enough for our whole group to assemble inside. Returning to the Petrel, we have lunch aboard as we sail for Santa Fe. Surrounded by a turquoise lagoon, this oldest of the Galapagos islands, dating back 4.5 million years, has one of the largest varieties of endemic Galapagos wildlife in the archipelago. On a short hike through a forest of giant prickly pear cacti, look for the land iguanas that wait patiently underneath for fruit to drop. We explore a small islet surrounded by great reef diversity, then set out for a cruise along Santa Fe’s north coast. Along this expanse, large cliffs and sea caves are used by many seabird species for nesting and roosting, as well as by basking green sea turtles and sea lions.
Day 10: San Cristobal—Disembark / Quito / Depart
This morning we make a landing at Isla Lobos, where we take a short panga ride along the shore to observe a frigatebird colony and walk inland to greet the resident sea lion colony and hopefully some blue-footed boobies. Once we reach San Cristobal, where we disembark, it’s time to say farewell to the Galapagos Islands and fly back to the mainland, landing at the airport in Quito. On arrival, we transfer to our nearby hotel, just minutes away, where an overnight stay is included. A complimentary shuttle will return you to the airport for your homeward flight.
Learn more about the seasonal variations of Galapagos weather and wildlife viewing.